Customs: But Once a Year

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Children Only. Some stores, notably Hudson's in Detroit and Rich's in Atlanta, have established special departments for children (no adults allowed ) where tots, clutching their coins, shop for presents for parents, aunts, brothers, sisters and pets. The children are led about by matronly salespeople who help them select gifts from simple displays on low-low counters.

Other innovations are less admirable. In Hollywood, for example, the retailers kicked off the season with a mighty parade starring Robert Stack and his TV "Untouchables." In one west Texas town, Santa popped up on TV on Nov. 9 and got parents so riled up over the early showing that many of them boycotted the store that sponsored the appearance. Good for a laugh—and little more —is a new service inaugurated in Dallas by Neiman-Marcus. Patrons who want to send gifts to maharajahs, prime ministers and other heads of state without any fuss need only call "Officer G7" at the store. G-7 assures the buyer that his order will be handled personally and confidentially, and that the billing (by phone) will be kept top secret.

And then there is "Mrs. Santa Claus." In Albuquerque, she is a short, slim woman with a "sister"' named Merry. In San Francisco's White House department store, she stalks the aisles in spangles and bustles, looking vaguely like a turn-of-the-Barbary-Coast matron. Explains one store official: "This Mrs. Santa Claus thing is going to grow and grow. The idea is that Mrs. Santa Claus gets tired of staying up there in the North Pole. After all, Santa Claus is gone every Christmas, so she gets fed up. She decides to come with him. Well, you can imagine all the new avenues this opens for us . . ."

The Cowards. Even more peculiar at times than Mrs. Santa are the shoppers themselves, and the oddest of these are the men. Says Associate Merchandiser Edith Grimm of Carson, Pirie, Scott: "Men are basically insecure shoppers. They're cowards." For one thing, a man rarely will return a gift for exchange; even the man who doesn't have everything seldom will take the time and the trouble to exchange, say, a mink-trimmed nail file for a couple of neckties. Women, on the other hand, are sharp shoppers, generally know what they want and, furthermore, believe that returns and exchanges are part of their birthright, much to the dismay of the store managers. A man invariably shops late, frequently does not know his wife's hose or lingerie sizes—or the color of her eyes, for that matter. Last year, a woman returned a size 12 housecoat to Carson's for exchange. "You know how it is with men," she explained. "My husband just couldn't tell you how large I am." She took home a size 20.

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